Tag Archives: cursive

From Quill to 

October 8, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, the word “cursive” comes from the Latin “currere,” meaning “to run.” The humble beginnings of this elegant script trace back to the use of the quill, which was easily broken and slow to use. Cursive was created to save time. The dynamic technological world of today is far removed from quills and ink, and computers can accomplish the same task—and more—in a shorter amount of time.

2014 Archdiocese of Omaha Educator of the Year award recipient Mary Holtmeyer enforces cursive writing in her fourth-grade classroom: “I have heard and read about both sides,” she says about the debate over whether or not to include cursive handwriting in a curriculum.

“Until someone can show us that cursive has no value, or is detrimental to our students, I think we will still use it. There is something to be said about the discipline it takes to learn; kids need that.” At St Pius X/St. Leo School, cursive is taught in third grade and enforced throughout elementary school.

Cursive writing appears to be a dying art. The Common Core Standards, which have been adopted by 42 states since their inception in 2010, eliminated handwriting in favor of keyboarding.

According to several studies, including those by UCLA and Princeton Universities, paraphrasing and reprocessing lecture information into one’s own words on paper allows the student to understand concepts more completely than typing the same words on a computer screen.

“Handwriting is tactile,” Holtmeyer re-affirms, “it uses parts of the brain that typing does not, and cursive, specifically, keeps students with dyslexia and dysgraphia from mixing up their letters.”

According to an article from Psychology Today, handwriting is linked to activating the vertical occipital fasciculus section of the brain. These portions of the brain are not activated while typing or texting.

Holtmeyer didn’t want to downplay the importance of technology in teaching. She emphasizes her dedication to helping students become well-rounded and capable people who are ready for the future.

“Academia is leaning toward technology. I’d like to hang on to kids thinking more critically instead of jumping straight to Google. I want them to be ready for their future, and I want them to be independent, critical thinkers that stand on their own two feet.”

A teacher of 25 years, Holtmeyer has evolved her teaching style to reflect the world her students experience. She does a lot with technology in her classroom, including her own use of Smart Boards, document cameras, and various other tools. She involves her students via the use of  Twitter (tweeting is one of the “classroom jobs” she assigns) and other projects. “They like [technology],” she says, “but I think it takes away a little bit of the individualism.”

Handwriting is like a fingerprint, each person has their own unique style that is never replicated exactly. “[Cursive] is a very personal thing. We encourage that.” 

This article was printed in the Fall 2017 edition of Family Guide.

Keeping Up With Kasher

February 3, 2017 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Anyone who went to dances or homecoming festivities at Creighton Prep, Marian, Duchesne Academy, Cathedral, or other Omaha high schools from late-1989 through the early ’90s probably bounced their head to the beat of a cover band called The March Hares. At the time, no one realized they were witnessing one of the most original talents ever to come out of Omaha.

Tim Kasher,  “like most ragged teenage guitar players,” had already been bitten by the underground bug when he and four Prep mates, including Matt Maginn and Matt Oberst, older brother of future indie singer-songwriter Conor Oberst, formed the group. They performed covers of bands like The Clash, The Cure, and R.E.M. in public, while playing original music in one another’s basements.

“It was a good little business,” recalls Kasher fondly, from his home in Los Angeles. “We found what got us most excited and, instead of baseball, it was music.”

tim-kasherMore than 25 years later, music still gets the indie rocker excited and “out of bed every morning.”  He’s writing and recording original songs for his current bands, Cursive and The Good Life. He’s also using his degree in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to write screenplays and, as always, testing the limits of his vocal cords.

“It’s definitely getting tougher to push the voice,” admits Kasher, 42, whose nasal and sometimes pitchy cries of anguish make his voice unmistakable. “I long to be 20 again, when I could scream as much as I wanted to. I can’t mistreat it now.”

Kasher will have to pace himself this spring when he goes on tour promoting a new solo album, his third. Titled No Resolution, the album comes out in March and, according to Kasher, features the lush sounds of strings, which he helped arrange.

True to form, Kasher wrote and directed a low-budget, feature-length film of the same name that uses all the songs from the album. “The film No Resolution is about a couple in their 30s who get engaged because she’s pregnant,” Kasher explains. “It’s set over New Year’s Eve, an appropriate backdrop to expose that the guy isn’t quite ready.”

Omahans saw an early edit of the film during the Omaha Film Festival last March. The final cut comes out this summer. Unlike many of his lyrics, the movie contains no autobiographical details. A happy and devoted Kasher married an editor at L.A. Weekly about one year ago. The couple live in the Silver Lake neighborhood, where they mingle with a sizeable group of Omaha transplants.
The musician’s private contentment hasn’t tempered his desire for professional independence. With the new year comes an announcement sure to send tremors through Omaha’s indie sphere: Kasher now has his own record label called 15 Passenger, a nod to an old touring van.

“The new album is on it. We also have all our master reels for Cursive, so we’re going to be releasing our back catalog, along with new stuff” he says. “We’re not planning on getting into the game of taking big gambles on new artists. Just self-releasing.”

What about Omaha-based Saddle Creek Records, the label formed and grown, in part, from Kasher’s talent? “Saddle Creek is alive and well. We’re just transitioning over.”

With a new album, new film, and a new record label, the beat goes on for Tim Kasher.

Visit timkasher.com for more information.

Video Vacation

March 3, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Django Greenblatt-Seay has made 133 music videos, but never for any of his own bands.

That changed in mid-December when his quartet, Gramps, released a self-titled debut recording, a four-song EP that coincided with the creation of a video produced through his side project, Love Drunk.

Launched in 2011, Love Drunk is a collection of one-take music videos of various local bands created with sound recording equipment backed by from four to six camera operators. They are shot in the most unlikely of places—amid the mishmash clutter of a thrift store, on a desolate rooftop, in his own bedroom. The videos of such notables as Cursive, Icky Blossoms, and See Through Dresses are hosted on the Love Drunk website and premiere simultaneously on the Hear Nebraska site (see related story on page 48). Both organizations exist to support local bands and their fans.

“This isn’t meant to be art,” says the former member of Midwest Dilemma. “It’s about connecting. It’s about being able to get an idea who you might want to see this weekend if you’re not already familiar with the bands we shoot.”

And as for the claim of not setting out to make art? We’ll let that slide, but the videos belie what one would expect from a one-take, all-or-nothing approach to an art form that too often is given to overly glitzy productions where the music itself can seem almost an afterthought. There is nothing herky-jerky or amateurish about a Love Drunk video. The works are eminently watchable and engaging—a juxtaposition of the raw and the refined, the simple and the sublime.

Greenblatt-Seay, who by day works in video project management at Union Pacific, has slowed a pace that once had his team shooting a video nearly every week. That’s because he partnered with JJ Dreier in 2013 to create Tree Speed, a time-lapse video project that has the pair traveling to wide-open spaces all across the western states in capturing dramatic footage of night skies in some of America’s most iconic settings, including Utah’s Arches National Park and South Dakota’s Badlands National Park (where the photography accompanying this story was shot).

While Love Drunk is a decidedly social—and loud—affair, Tree Speed sessions are a serene, contemplative, Thoreau-esque communal with nature.

“I’m really bad at taking vacations,” Greenblatt-Seay says. “And when I do fit one in, it always seems that I’m trying to turn it into a video project. Instead of just enjoying myself, I’m always looking for what I’m going to film next on the trip and how I’m going to do it just right.”

This doesn’t mean that Tree Speed’s journeys are all rest and relaxation. He and Dreier may drive for as many as 18 hours straight through to a destination only to scramble to unpack, set up, and carefully calibrate their array of gear in a race against sundown and the canopy of stars (fingers crossed for a clear, cloudless night) that will follow.

“Once we’re set and the conditions are as optimal as we think they’ll get, we hit that button…and then there’s nothing…nothing to do for two hours” while the camera does its thing, Greenblatt-Seay explains.

“You feel so very small” under the vastness of the heavens, he says. “It helps me understand my place. It’s beautiful.

“And I finally get to relax,” he adds, “even if it is only a two-hour vacation.”

Visit lovedrunkstudios.com and treespeedphoto.com to see the videos.


It’s Just Rock and Roll

June 20, 2015 by

This article was printed in the May/June 2015 issue of The Encounter.

On March 3, 2015, Omaha rock band Twinsmith performed a blistering set to an attentive audience of five in Columbus, Ohio. A week prior, the band tore through their crowd-pleasing numbers to 1,500 music fanatics while supporting indie legends Cursive in California.

“Rock and roll, “Brian Johnson once famously sang, “Is just rock and roll.”

Cruel, humorous, ironic, triumphant, exciting, grueling: rock and roll is this and more much for those who ride its roller coaster.

For the hometown Saddle Creek Records recent signees, Twinsmith, rock and roll is a fickle livelihood. Trekking across America in support of their Saddle Creek debut LP, Alligator Years, Jordan Smith, Matt Regner, Bill Sharp, and Oliver Morgan are involved in everything from a week supporting Cursive, to headlining shows, to the madness of SXSW.

“When you are in a band, the year goes by so fast,” says lead singer and lyricist Smith. “There is only so much you can do between writing, recording, and touring.”

For Smith and his bandmates, that year began in earnest upon entering the studio in September of last year. With 10 tracks in hand—all composed in the year after their debut release—Twinsmith was ready for whatever direction the music and their producer, Luke Pettipoole (The Envy Corps), wanted to take.

“Luke definitely took on a band member role with us. He really developed the songs and gave his ideas out,” says Smith. “The goal was to have everyone into the songs. If somebody had an idea, we would try it first and then decide together if we wanted to keep it. It was great to write these songs as a band.”

The results are 10 songs ably balancing pop rock blast (“Seventeen”) and introspective balladry (“Carry On”). With its varied styles and expert production, Alligator Years is a satisfying listen solidly rooted in the modern indie domain.

While many indie bands often tackle an overall theme or concept to their albums, Twinsmith took great joy in presenting a set of music that’s only concern was being good music.

“We wanted to make a really dynamic album. The goal in mind was if we liked the songs, we were going to put them on the record,” Smith says. “We tried to make it different, a couple synth songs, a couple retro pop songs. It is feel-good music and songs that we love to play live.”

Immediately following the groups album release show, (May 15 at Slowdown), Smith and company plan on taking a much-deserved few weeks off before hitting the road full-on later this summer. Regardless what the future holds for their major independent label debut, Twinsmith has found great trust in each other and their music.

“We have been progressing in our music together, we know the direction but we don’t have to talk about it or explain it,” says Smith. “We trust each other in knowing we aren’t going to try to write bad music.”


The Death of Cursive

February 24, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Look closely. Bet you can’t even read it. The strong, curvaceous loops of the “L” intersect just a little too closely with …is that an “o”? It hooks right up with … “z”…something? In it, though, there is a sense of beauty in the slants, the graceful curves.

Too bad this beautiful writing form is practically dead. Cursive seems destined for the same literary fate as the typewriter.

Freshman Colby Gomes is part of that generation that is no longer charmed by cursive writing. On a recent day at Millard West High School, he tossed an example essay back to his English teacher with a laugh. I can’t read this,” he said. “Why not?” “Because it’s in cursive,” Gomes responded.

Reading teacher Diane Eubanks started noticing this trend in her sixth grade classes at Alice Buffett Middle School. Eubanks has been teaching for 26 years, first at the King Science and Technology Magnet Center. She used to write nothing but cursive on the board, and it was a deep part of the curriculum. “Now, I can’t because they [students] can’t read it,” Eubanks says. “It really did surprise me. I do understand it, but it is kind of sad.”

She believes that out of her 200 or so students, only 10 can read and write cursive.

The Common Core State Standards for many public schools have omitted cursive as a necessity even though it has been linked to higher cognitive skills in memory and brain development. Nebraska along with Texas, Alaska, and Virginia has not adopted the standards. Some states such as Hawaii have even dropped cursive completely so students can learn 21st century skills such as keyboarding.

Unlike Omaha Public Schools, which concentrate on cursive writing during the last semesters of third grade, the Catholic Schools of Omaha require an entire year of focus.

Kim Abts, a teacher’s assistant at St. Roberts Bellarmine, was shocked when a public school transfer student still could not write or read cursive in the fourth grade. “I think I’ve taken it for granted,” Abts says. “I thought that was just a normal, natural thing.”

Abts says after third grade, students are not allowed to print. For example, Unlike Eubanks, teachers at St. Roberts still write cursive on the board as well.

Eubanks believes teachers just have limited time to teach handwriting. In addition, most students rarely write anything anymore because everything is on some sort of computer. “Technology has made us somewhat brain-dead,” Gomes says.

Gomes recalls learning handwriting clear back in the third grade at Willowdale, but now he uses it to sign only his name. He believes cursive is just too complicated for his generation. “We don’t want to take the time to make the loopy-doops,” he explains.

Wyatt Spethman, a fifth grader at Whitetail Creek in Gretna, disagrees. He believes cursive is faster plus it looks “fancier.” Spethman boasts his handwriting is good and accepts the challenge to write, “I love donuts.” When he tries, though, he pauses. He explains he does not know how to make a capital “I.”

“I just forgot about it,” he says shrugging.

Reminiscing about her 26 years of teaching, Eubanks still recalls the beautifully scrawled handwriting of former students. “It is a lost art, really,” she says, sighing.

Perhaps this epitaph will be etched into cursive’s tombstone. In print.